There was a buzz about this year’s Masters tournament. That was because Tiger Woods was making his Augusta National (and majors) return. But while most of the media attention centered on Tiger as expected, the week belonged to the new breed of top golfers.
Woods Made The Cut
After a spinal fusion injury that threatened his career, a couple of Top 5 finishes on the PGA Tour has brought back to life Tiger Woods’ pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major title victories. But while he got the hype moving, Tiger could not get his game going.
Making his first majors appearance since the 2015 PGA Championship, Tiger teed off alongside Marc Leishman and Tommy Fleetwood. Woods was never known to play the first hole at Augusta very well. But this time, his first shot, first tee on Day 1 was way off to the pine straw. It was the first sign that we were not going to see the old Tiger back.
Woods was wayward off the tee all week. He was strong with his approaches and putts but wasn’t able to have enough consistency. As he admitted, he couldn’t convert with his irons, could not control the shape and the distance. In short, he was good enough to make the cut but could not be better to do more than that.
So as the leaders were just getting started, the 14th time majors winner was putting the final touches on a final round of 69, giving him a 1-over par total of 289 for the week. Woods was making his first Masters appearance since 2015 and while it was far from the performance of the Tiger of old, this older Tiger actually made the cut.
Six months ago, Woods’ career was almost as good as dead. Nobody was expecting Tiger to compete at any level, much more in the majors. Woods had not made the cut in a major tournament in the last three years. So if there are so-called moral victories, being able to play on a Sunday at Augusta was already an accomplishment.
A Tiger-Esque Round
For those who were looking for anything or anyone that resembled the old Tiger Woods, there was Jordan Spieth. The first of Spieth’s three major titles came at the Masters in 2015, where he became the second youngest player ( behind who else, but Tiger Woods ) to win a green jacket.
The 24-year-old entered the final day nine shots off the lead. But he made an amazing charge that earned him a tie for the best final round score in Masters history. And for a while on Sunday, it looked as it Spieth would both make history and win his second Masters with a Tiger-Esque final round
Spieth’s tee shot at the par-4 18th hole was wide and clipped a branch of a tree before falling down in the rough. He could only manage the ball back in the fairway with his second shot and hit the green on his third. His first put from about 10 feet away was wide and he bogeyed to become the 7th player in the history of the Masters to shoot a 64 on the final day.
Had he one-putted that final hole, Spieth would have posted a final round score of 63. That would have been the best scoring final round in the history of Augusta. 63 is also the course record at the Masters, a title held by Nick Price and Greg Norman. Price shot his 63 in 1986 while Norman did his in 1996.
It was an anti-climatic finish to a dazzling performance by Jordan Spieth. Prior to the 18th hole, Spieth had made nine birdies on the final day. The bogey on the 18th was his first of the day and it came at the wrong time. Spieth, the second youngest player to ever win the green jacket, finished the tournament at 13-under.
Spieth wound up at third place and if there was any consolation for him, it’s that he set the record for the second best first five-year pro start at Augusta. Spieth’s 1 win, a pair of T-2, 3rd and T-11 rank only next to Jack Nicklaus who had 3 winds, T-2 and T-15 from 1962-1966.
First Major Title
With Spieth’s spirited run coming up short, it all boiled down to Rickie Fowler and leader Patrick Reed who began the day with a three-stroke advantage. Reed mastered Augusta National over the first three days with his brilliance on the Par 5’s. On those four holes alone, Reed was a 13-under through three rounds.
But Fowler was hot on Reed’s trail. He shot a final round score of 67 and sank a birdie at the 18th hole to finish the tournament at a very impressive 14-under. To put that in perspective, Fowler’s final score of 274 would have been good enough to win all but six of the past 81 Masters tournament.
The only winning scores in Augusta better than Fowler’s score were 270 by Tiger Woods in 1997 and Jordan Spieth in 2015, 271 by Jack Nicklaus in 1965 and Raymond Floyd in 1976 and 272 by Tiger Woods in 2001 and Phil Mickelson in 2010. But then again, that just shows how good Patrick Reed was this week.
Reed needed at least a par on his final hole to win his first ever major. He left himself with some work on the green. He double putted on the 18th, sinking a pressure-packed four-foot putt to claim the 2018 Masters. Reed finished with a one-under 71 on Sunday to conclude the tournament at 15-under overall, just one shot better than Fowler.
The 27-year-old barrel-chested Texan has gone a long way. He got kicked off the Georgia college golf team only to lead Augusta State to two national championships. After becoming the youngest winner of the WGC-Cadillac Championship ( he won it in 2014 ), he became the fourth golfer to win four times on the PGA Tour before his 25th birthday, joining Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, and Rory McIlroy. Now he joins the ranks of Woods and Garcia as green jacket winners. He also prevented McIlroy from joining that elite group first and denying the Irish a career grand slam.
At 9-under par, McIlroy salvaged fifth place behind Reed, Fowler, Spieth and John Rahm who was at 11-under. McIlroy shot a 65 in the third round, his best round ever at the Masters, to enter the final pairing just three shots off Reed. But the Irishman missed makeable putts in the front nine and then dropped out of contention on the back nine.